se·​vere sə-ˈvir How to pronounce severe (audio)
severer; severest
: strict in judgment, discipline, or government
: of a strict or stern bearing or manner : austere
: rigorous in restraint, punishment, or requirement : stringent
: strongly critical or condemnatory
a severe critic
: maintaining a scrupulously exacting standard of behavior or self-discipline
: establishing exacting standards of accuracy and integrity in intellectual processes
a severe logician
: sober or restrained in decoration or manner : plain
a severe dress
: causing discomfort or hardship : harsh
severe winters
: very painful or harmful
a severe wound
: requiring great effort : arduous
a severe test
: of a great degree
severe depression
severely adverb
severeness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for severe

severe, stern, austere, ascetic mean given to or marked by strict discipline and firm restraint.

severe implies standards enforced without indulgence or laxity and may suggest harshness.

severe military discipline

stern stresses inflexibility and inexorability of temper or character.

stern arbiters of public morality

austere stresses absence of warmth, color, or feeling and may apply to rigorous restraint, simplicity, or self-denial.

living an austere life in the country

ascetic implies abstention from pleasure and comfort or self-indulgence as spiritual discipline.

the ascetic life of the monks

Example Sentences

On Feb. 25 regulators laid out details on how they will run the "stress tests" that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has promised on the biggest banks. Now those tests, designed to judge whether the banks have the capital to keep lending and absorb losses in a severe recession, face an exam of their own. Jane Sasseen et al., Business Week, 9 Mar. 2009
A study in February in the journal Lancet, for instance, compared treatments for severe ankle sprains, concluding that a below-the-knee cast is superior to a tubular compression bandage. Sharon Begley, Newsweek, 9 Mar. 2009
Between 2000 and 2004 the number of Americans covered by Medicaid rose by a remarkable eight million. Over the same period the ranks of the uninsured rose by six million. So without the growth of Medicaid, the uninsured population would have exploded, and we'd be facing a severe crisis in medical care. Paul Krugman et al., New York Review of Books, 23 Mar. 2006
As several economists—most notably Jeffrey Williamson, of Harvard University—have written recently, international trade increased dramatically between 1850 and the First World War. Williamson goes on to point out that one consequence of this earlier period of globalization was that governments retreated into policies of severe trade and immigration restrictions. Nicholas Lemann, New Yorker, 10 May 1999
The storm caused severe damage to the roof. The patient is in severe pain. children with severe learning disabilities In the most severe cases, the disease can lead to blindness. He suffered a severe head injury. He faces severe penalties for his actions. The war was a severe test of his leadership. See More
Recent Examples on the Web The less a person uses this drug, the lower the risk of these rare but severe side effects, and three days is normally sufficient. Dr. Keith Roach, oregonlive, 13 Mar. 2023 Although both eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder can be severe and life-threatening, people with body dysmorphic disorder on average experience more impairment in daily functioning than those with eating disorders. Eva Fisher, Fortune Well, 10 Mar. 2023 Areal rainfall totals of 4-9 inches through today, atop areas with saturated soil and deep snowpack will cause widespread and severe flooding impacts, particularly in the High Risk (pink) area. Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times, 10 Mar. 2023 Migraines are moderate or severe headaches that can cause a throbbing pain usually occurring on just one side of the head, according to John Hopkins Medicine. Elizabeth Napolitano, CBS News, 10 Mar. 2023 Oil spills along the Keystone pipeline that runs from Canada to Texas have become more frequent and severe, prompting stricter regulations for a 1,200-mile stretch of the pipeline, a federal agency said on Tuesday. Max Zahn, ABC News, 9 Mar. 2023 The problem, experts said, is that there’s a severe and widespread shortage of affordable housing — not that people are applying to affordable housing programs outside of their own city., 8 Mar. 2023 Turbulence is measured in four classifications: light, moderate, severe, and extreme. Chloe Taylor, Fortune, 6 Mar. 2023 The latest survey found that moderate or severe drought covers about 49% of the state, nearly 17% of the state is free of drought or a condition described as abnormally dry. John Antczak, The Christian Science Monitor, 3 Mar. 2023 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'severe.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin severus

First Known Use

1548, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of severe was in 1548

Cite this Entry

“Severe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


se·​vere sə-ˈvi(ə)r How to pronounce severe (audio)
severer; severest
: strict in judgment, discipline, or government
a severe ruler
: serious in feeling or manner : grave
: not using unnecessary ornament : plain
a severe style
: inflicting pain, distress, or hardship
severe wounds
a severe winter
: requiring great effort
a severe test
severely adverb

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